Land was sighted after 22 days at sea, the evening before last. An hour before sunset, the sharp peaks of Ua-Huka were visible through the haze. We slowed overnight to make for a morning arrival in Taiohae Bay. Our anchor found the bottom at about 10:30 AM local time yesterday. This bay is beautiful and well-sheltered, with volcanic rock blocking the swell and trade winds, allowing a peaceful sleep at night. Smoke rises in a few places from the town tucked up at the head of the bay and cocks crow at all hours. I’m looking forward to exercising my legs a bit, but we must complete the check-in process first, a chore made more tedious by the fact that four people aboard do not have prearranged visas. All is well aboard Starlight. We had a wonderful passage, but I t’s good to be in port. We even made it in time for the boat owners youngest daughter to celebrate her birthday in harbor instead of at sea–a stroke of good timing that made everyone aboard even happier to arrive.
As I sit and write this we are sailing at 6.5 knots in exactly the right direction. The seas are flat, the sky clear, and the temperature perfectly comfortable for shorts and a t-shirt. Today is another beautiful day in the long string of warm, clear, gentle days that we have enjoyed on this passage. I will be sure to keep this passage in mind the next time I am freezing my butt off, beating against an uncomfortable chop, and wondering why I go cruising at all. At least for me, those days are much more numerous than the nice ones when I look back at the days that I have spent on the water in my lifetime. In fact, this entire passage has been made up of “ten percent” days–those really nice ones that convince me that it isn’t completely crazy to keep going back out to sea. I am pretty sure at this point that a full ninety percent of the time that I am sailing the weather is contrary, dreary, or uncomfortable for one reason or another, including flat calms and wilting heat. This is probably not everyone’s experience, but I have spent a lot of time sailing out of season, on the shoulders of the good seasons, and in places where the weather just isn’t going to be ideal the majority of the time. Why do I do that? I am not quite sure myself. It ensures plenty of room in the anchorages that I visit, at least. I guess if I were seeking comfort I would have kept my full-time job and cushy sofa rather than trading them for uncertain income and a thin piece of foam set on plywood sheltered by a leaky deck. Even on the best of days out here I can’t leave my cup of tea unsupervised if I h ave set it on a on a flat surface and I probably have not enjoyed the luxury of a shower in recent memory. Back to how things are out here on S/V Starlight, currently two hundred miles from Nuku Hiva, I am very happy with the speed that we have made on this leg so far. We have done as well as I could have expected for this boat, especially loaded the way she is. Nobody has been seasick, and everyone has enjoyed the freedom from frequent sail trimming and reefing. Except for rolling in a little of the genoa a couple of times to keep it from slatting, and occasionally making a small tweak here and there, we haven’t made any sail changes since leaving the Galapagos.
Well, don’t pull out the “Mission Accomplished” banner yet. I just mean that we are down to only a thousand miles between us and our next intended port of call. That is still quite a few miles to go, but it doesn’t feel like all that much after just a couple of weeks ago looking out at three thousand miles of water separating us from our next stop. Things have been going very well so far. The strategy of staying at this low latitude has kept the wind at a good angle for the most part, and we have been making pretty good time as well. The boat is holding together too, with no real problems to report at this time. Several days ago, while checking the rig over, I discovered a long pan-head machine screw in the mainsail cover. It never gives me a warm feeling to find bits of hardware that have fallen off the boat, but I could immediately rule it out as one of the more critical parts of the rig. I dropped it in my pocket and figured the solution to this little puzzle would eventually come to me. A while later, I was looking up at the main, checking for chafe, when I noticed three batten tension adjusting screws had backed themselves halfway out of the end fittings. Aha. Mystery solved. Ido and I took the main down, replaced the screw from my pocket that had luckily dropped neatly into the mainsail cover from forty feet up, and tightened the other adjusting screws. We also found that one of the bolts holding one of the universal joint together on one of the batten cars had disappeared, leaving the batten free f rom the car that holds it to the mast. We replaced the missing bolt with a cotter pin and checked all the others for tightness. All else in order, we re-hoisted the main and were again on our way. The wind has been almost always between 10 and 20 knots on his leg, the weather mostly fine, and temperatures warm, but comfortable. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions and I think that everyone aboard knows that the comfortable ease of the past couple thousand miles will be remembered fondly for years to come. Here’s hoping the last third of the passage is even close to being as nice as things have been to this point.
By tomorrow morning, if all continues to go well, we will cross the halfway point of our passage to the Marquesas. We are 10 days and almost 1,500 miles out from our last port. We have been sailing a route closer to the equator than the rhumb line, or shortest distance between ports, to take advantage of the slightly stronger favorable current here and also the fact that the wind is closer to abeam. The last detail is important because this boat has only working sails and does not even carry a whisker or spinnaker pole for downwind work, which makes sailing on any course deeper than a broad reach a slow, noisy proposition as the sails slat and bang with each passing wave. We have the mainsail cranked down tight with a preventer, but there is little to be done for the genoa once it is blanketed by the mainsail, save for furling it. The engine mounts are still holding together. The cause of the extra vibration that I had mentioned in my last post was due to the boat owner starting and running the engine in reverse when charging the batteries. Because of friction in the shift cable, he was having a difficult time finding neutral, an easy mistake to make. I showed him how to double-check for neutral before starting, so hopefully the problem is solved. We caught a nice mahi mahi several days ago, so everyone has been eating plenty of fish. We just finished up the last of it yesterday, so the fishing lines can go back in again. I don’t like to risk catching more than we can eat, to avoid needless waste. Hopefully we will get a quick strike again when we want one. When I threw the lure in the last time, the fish was on before I could let out ten meters of line. That certainly made it easier reeling him in, which I especially appreciated due to the fact that we have only hand lines aboard. Landing the fish on the swim platform was very easy and made me think about how much more difficult it would be to haul a fish up onto my own boat. I have no alternative but to land fish in the cockpit or on the side deck. It is encouraging to see the little string of “X”‘s, our noon positions, keep stretching farther westward across the chart…
Sea, sky, and another 130 miles under the keel. There is not much new to report each day, so I have not been sending daily updates. This passage so far has lived up to the reputation that the “milk run” Pacific passages are famous for–warm weather, gentle breezes, and consistent daily runs over a deep blue sea. The first almost 700 miles since leaving Galapagos have slipped into the wake in a wonderfully relaxed fashion. Of course, I am not going to use those first days to confidently extrapolate that the rest of the trip will be the same, and indeed Simba just now informed me that he suspects that there may be a problem with the engine mounts because the engine was “jumping around” more than usual when he started it to charge the batteries last night. Hopefully that is not the problem, since we don’t carry spare engine mounts nor any way to repair the ones on which the engine is currently sitting. Checking the engine just moved to the top of my list of things to do this morning. We haven’t had a bite on our fishing lines yet on this passage, but at least there are signs that we are surrounded by life even if it is not interested in he lures we are dragging behind us. We have seen one large pod of dolphins, have had a shark trailing us, have scattered great schools of flying fish, and have enjoyed the constant company of petrels tip-toeing on the waves around us. I am sure it is just a matter of time before some fish gets curious enough to take a bite at our spoon or pink squid. There is a little more space in the food lockers with each passing day, but we are keeping up with most of our water usage by running the small watermaker for a couple of hours every day when the sun is high. We catch the drips and eventually fill our drinking water containers. We can make water at the rate of about a gallon and a half per hour for the modest cost of 6 amp-hours of electrical power and the small mental drain of having to listen to the machine churn way beneath the settee. So, so far we are in good shape in that department. Time to go take a look at the engine…
The engine is running and we are just pulling and stowing the anchors for sea. This is to be the longest leg of our voyage, at somewhat over 3,000 miles, but the winds are forecast to be fair and we should have a favorable current for most of the way as well. Our next planned stop is Nuku Hiva, and it should take us about 3 weeks to get there, more or less. When we reach our next port, it will be well into September!
Leaving here took longer than expected, as we had to wait several days for our new clearance paper. All is sorted out now, we have our new clearance paper in hand, and we are headed to sea.
Almost everything is in place for our departure from the Galapagos. We need to hoist the anchor and finish stowing the stern anchor, but all else is ready. It took a few days to receive our new clearance paper, but that has all been worked out now and we are free to go. This will be the longest passage of the voyage, at somewhat over 3,000 miles. I expect that we will be at sea for two to three weeks, but it could take a little longer. in any case, it will be well into September before we reach our next port.
The things that make a story more interesting are usually not pleasant to live through. We were supposed to leave almost a week ago, but I became ill with the common traveler’s curse the day before we planned to go, possibly because of something that I ate, but more likely from the local water source. The effect on my system was bad enough to make me seek medical attention for the first time that I can remember in my adult life (outside of problems that required stitches or repairing broken bones). After two injections, a course of 2 different medications, choking down 3 days of a re-hydrating mineral solution, and several days on a strong probiotic prescribed by the hospital, I feel much better now. A follow-up visit has pronounced me still a little dehydrated, but fit enough to sail. Fantastic. We’ll be leaving as soon as we get our new clearance papers.
We’re all ready to be underway again. This has been a wonderful stop, but we’ve explored the area to our content. Also, the anchorage here can be uncomfortable when the wind kicks up from the southeast, which is the direction it has blown from every day since we arrived. Any swell rolls right into the harbor from relatively deep water, keeping things lively for those of us on monohulls. When the wind kicks up and a chop gets added to the mix, things get even worse. Most of the time that we’ve been here Starlight rolls and bounces around enough to make it feel like we’re still at sea. You can see that we have been rolling a lot because we’ve accumulated bottom growth at least a foot above the waterline on the topsides of the hull.
On the very bad days, the swell will kick up and break in the harbor. At the top of this post is a picture of the boat that is moored next to us. When the swell is large, the waves break awfully close to this boat, and on one rough day the biggest waves were breaking where the boat was moored. Where we are anchored with Starlight, the waves were standing up and getting steep, but not quite enough to threaten breaking. Several boats have ended up on the rocks in this port in the past 6 months, including at least one of the supply ships, according to the owner of the mast-less boat. I never forget that we’re not far from a lee shore when the wind kicks up here.
At least getting back and forth to the boat is pretty easy, thanks to the excellent water taxi service in the harbor. The taxis run 24/7 and the price is fixed at $.80/per person per trip during the day and $1 per person at night. This can still add up, but when I think about some yacht clubs I’ve been to that charge $3-4 per person per trip plus expect a tip on top of that, it seems downright cheap. I also don’t think that we’ve ever really waited more than about 5 minutes for a taxi, which is a nice contrast to days that I remember baking in the sun for a half an hour or more on a moored boat in harbors in New England in the summer waiting for the launch driver to finally decide that I was going to be lucky enough to get a ride to shore.
Before getting sick, Idoia and I got out to explore a few more of the surrounding sights, including the rock formations and Las Grietas, Tortuga Bay, a private ranch in the interior of the island, and some lava tunnels left over from when the island was formed 5 million years ago.
After nine days at sea we are now less than fifty miles from Puerto Ayuda on the island of Santa Cruz. The sea is calm, and we are making good just under five knots, though much of that speed is coming from the current. Yesterday we had an unceremonious equator crossing at about 1130. The past few days have been good sailing on the SE trades, and with the fair current we enjoyed good day’s runs. As we approached these islands, we have seen increasing numbers of birds and signs of marine life. Two days ago we sailed through a large area where hundreds of dolphins were feeding, driving fish to the surface, where they also attracted clouds of birds. I am sure that we would have had good luck as well if we had put a line in the water, but nobody was in the mood for fishing and instead just enjoyed watching the spectacle and taking pictures. Despite our fumigation certificate from Panama, we have spent much time in the past couple of days getting rid of bug-infested food. Things seem better now, but there will be problems again unless everyone is more willing to get rid of things that have gone bad and be more fastidious in good food storage practices. Not all the important lessons on this trip are directly related to strictly sailing the boat as the family adjusts to the reality of life aboard.